The Collapse of Average

by Linda Henman, Ph.D.

Harvard Business Review blogger, Michael Schrage, recently wrote an entry entitled, The Coming Collapse of Average Managers and Employees.”  In the article he cited the widely-publicized research entitled The Value of Bosses.

This National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper empirically argued that bosses matter. Better bosses generate better results. Using a variety of accepted econometric/statistical techniques, the study found that the most significant impact bosses had didn’t come from their motivational skills, but from teaching workers how to be more productive, i.e. capability building.

We already knew that value creation comes from how well organizations manage their best people, not from better managing mediocrity. Research like this strongly suggests that mean, median, and modal performers are unlikely to be key sources — or resources — for significant returns on organizational investment.

In other words, average performers — bosses or workers — become less valuable over time. Mediocre people make mediocre investments. Average is the enemy.

You won’t find all the A players in the C-suite, however. Some clean the offices; some type; others mow the lawn. The position doesn’t create the excellence; the performance does.

There’s arguably never been a worse time to be a mediocre, average, or typical employee. For most firms today, mediocrity is a cost to be managed and a burden to be borne, not a potential to cultivate or a resource worthy of serious investment.

While Schrage’s article offers valuable insights, I found the comments that followed more telling.  Scores of people weighed in to taut the merits of the average worker and the value of B, C, and D players.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I have first-row tickets to a Broadway show tonight. I hope they fill the stage with understudies”? Or, “I’m going to the World Series game tonight. Wouldn’t it be great if they let the B Team take the field, even if that meant losing the Series?”

Perhaps most people don’t see themselves on a concert stage or professional field of play but realize they will have to compete for jobs, so they want a more level playing field. Instead of striving to improve their performance, they spend time commenting about the unfairness of singling out superior contributions.

Companies that will recover quickly from the current economic downturn will simply have to do better.

If you found these tips from Linda Henman, Ph.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at


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